Rarely losing sight of the Pacific Ocean during its 340-mile jaunt along the Oregon coast, US‑101 winds past rockbound coast, ancient forests, and innumerable towns and villages. While the region also has its share of strip towns and places where the timber boom went bust, the beach loops, historic restorations, and more state parks per mile than any place in the country soften its few hard edges. Every 20 miles or so, you’ll pass through attractive, if moderately touristy, towns populated by at most a few thousand people. As a general rule, it’s the mileage between these hamlets that explains why most people visit: to take in one of the most dramatic meetings of rock and tide in the world.
Starting in the north along the Columbia River at historic Astoria, one of the oldest settlements in the western United States, the route winds along the ocean past the different beachfront hamlets of Seaside and Cannon Beach before edging slightly inland through the rich dairy lands of Tillamook County. Midway along, the popular vacation spots of Lincoln City, Newport, and Florence form the most developed corridor along the coast, but it’s still easy to reach unpeopled stretches, especially at the remarkable Oregon Dunes stretching to the south. The dunes end abruptly at the heavily industrial port of Coos Bay, beyond which the natural beauty returns with a string of state parks and the diverse coastal towns of Bandon, Port Orford, Gold Beach, and Brookings.